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MASTERPIECES 
IN COLOUR 
EDITED BY - - 
T. LEMAN HARE 



SARGENT 



PLATE I.— LORD RIBBLESDALE. Frontispiece 
(In the collection of Lord Ribblesdale) 

A portrait of the author of " The Queen's Hounds and Stag-hunting 
Recollections " : esteemed one of the finest of Sargent's works. 



SARGENT 

BY T. MARTIN WOOD $ $ 

ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT 
REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR 




LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK 
NEW YORK: FREDERICK A. STOKES CO. 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Plate 

Page 

I. Lord Ribblesdale . . . Frontispiece 

In the collection of Lord Ribblesdale 

II. La Carmencita 14 

In the Luxembourg, Paris 

III. Ellen Terry as " Lady Macbeth " . .24 

In the National Gallery, Millbank 

IV. W. Graham Robertson, Esq. ... 34 

In the collection of W. Graham Robertson, Esq. 

V. Carnation Lily, Lily Rose ... 40 

In the National Gallery, Millbank 

VI. Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Lady 

Tennant 50 

In the collection of the Hon. Percy Wyndham 

VII. The Misses Wertheimer .... 60 

In the collection of Asher Wertheimer, Esq. 

VIII. Mrs. A. L. Langman .... 70 

In the collection of A. L. Langman, Esq., C.M.G. 




WAS there ever a more romantic time 
than our own, or a people who 
took everything more matter - of- factly ? 
The paintings of a period contain all its 
enthusiasms and illusions. We remember 
the eighteenth century — at least in Eng- 
land—by Reynolds' and Gainsborough's art, 

9 



io SARGENT 

the seventeenth century by Van Dyck's ; and 
when we remember the eighteenth cen- 
tury in France, it is to think of Watteau, 
who expressed what his world, drifting 
towards disaster, cared about— an illusion 
of a never-ending summer's day. These 
names are expressive of their times, and 
Sargent's art, with disillusioned outlook, 
mirrors an obvious aspect of English life 
to-day. Above all others he has taken his 
world as it is, with the delight in life, in 
its everyday appearance, with which the 
representative artists of any period have 
been gifted. 

Perhaps the next generation will feel 
that it owes more to him than to any 
painter of this time. For the ephemerali- 
ties of the moment in costume and fashion 
are the blossoms in which life seeks ex- 
pression — whatever its fruit. It is agreed 



SARGENT ii 

that everything is expression, from a spring 
bud bursting to a ribbon worn for a 
moment against a woman's hair. And who 
deals with the surface of life deals with 
realities, for the rest is guess-work. 

Often enough this content to take the 
world as it is may result in things which 
do not charm us, and perhaps Sargent has 
never been one of those as fastidious in 
selection as in delineation. Sometimes he 
gives his sitters away — for there are traits 
in human nature, belief in the very ex- 
istence of which we are always anxious 
to forego. Nothing escapes him that is 
written in the face. Yet he is not cynical, 
but man of the world, the felicity of living 
in a world where everything is charming 
being only for those with the gift to live in 
one of their own making. 

The side of life which he expresses is 



12 SARGENT 

that in which time seems given over wholly 
to social amenities, long afternoons spent 
in pleasant intercourse, hours well ordered 
and protected, so that the most fragrant 
qualities in human nature can if they will 
spring to life. We almost hear the tea- 
cups in the other room, and none of his 
sitters seem really alone. We feel they 
have left the life to which they belong to 
sit to the artist but only for an hour or so. 
The social world to which they belong will 
absorb them again. This world Sargent 
paints. Even in many of his single figures 
we are conscious always of its existence in 
the background. In portrait after portrait 
there is scarcely a suggestion of self- 
consciousness — but the man or the woman 
just at the moment of posing, as if en- 
vironed still in an atmosphere of their 
own, and of the world from which they 



PLATE II.— LA CARMENCITA 
(In the Luxembourg, Paris) 

Painting of a Spanish Dancer. Exhibited at the Royal Academy 
in 1 89 1 ; acquired by the French Government. 



SARGENT 15 

have withdrawn for the sitting. For it 
is Sargent's gift to remove the impression 
that his sitter has posed, that the dress 
was arranged, and his gift to arrest his 
sitter's habitual gesture, the impression of 
sparkling stones, almost the clink of bangles 
at the wrist in expression of the moment. 
Most unjustly was it said that he could not 
paint pretty women. It would appear to be 
within his power to paint almost anything 
that has its existence in fact, and if in a 
matter-of-fact way, what more to the point 
if the facts are so beautiful that fancy itself 
would have to defer? 

Supreme is the art of Sargent in its ap- 
preciation of those pleasures which would 
almost seem for art alone: pearls upon the 
colour of flesh; slight transitions of colour 
charged with great secrets of beauty ; 
pearls painted as they would be regarded 



16 SARGENT 

by a lover, as ten thousand times more 
beautiful than if they were lying in a 
box. And the touches of the brush— for 
Sargent shows every touch — breathe sym- 
pathy with every change of colour as the 
chain of pearls falls first across white silk 
and then across black velvet, and the little 
globes take to themselves new variations. 
A fan is opened, and upon the ivory sticks 
the light like silver trembles, a web of 
colour is spun across upon the open ribs ; a 
book is half-open, it may be a Bradshaw, 
but we will believe it is a book of old 
verse, for everything that comes into the 
picture, the particular picture of which I 
am thinking, comes into a charmed circle. 
There are people for whom the opulent 
world of Sargent's art is their every- 
day world— whose life competes with the 
splendour of day-dreams. How essentially 



SARGENT 17 

romantic— although so matter-of-fact— must 
be the art that leaves us with this im- 
pression! To be matter-of-fact is, we see, 
far from being unromantic; the reverse 
indeed is true, for with our face turned 
from the world romance vanishes. 

II 

I once had occasion to call on Mr. Sar- 
gent, and was shown into a room with 
a black carpet. Only a colourist loves 
black, and sees it as a colour. And this 
room, so free from all that was novel and 
without associations, helped to explain to 
me why, though his method is so modern 
and of the moment, his pictures of aristo- 
crats accommodate themselves to ancestral 
surroundings. For it is true that not only 
the face and the clothes of his sitters are 
given, but somehow, in the material of 

B 



18 SARGENT 

paint, their social position and their dis- 
tinction. Now this is not by any means 
the least of Sargent's qualities; it is 
not a common one. Well-bred people 
drive up to the door of a modern studio 
almost visibly cloaked in the traditions 
of their race, but we are led to believe 
that they must have left all this behind 
them in the carriage when we see the por- 
trait in an exhibition ; the artist has shown 
nothing of it, has used his distinguished 
sitter simply as a model. For lack of 
inspiration novelties are proffered in its 
place, Uart nouveau on canvas. Sargent 
does not paint modern people as if they 
all came into the world yesterday landed 
from an airship. No, he is like Van Dyck, 
who not only painted the beautiful clothes, 
the long white hands, and the bearing of 
his sitters sympathetically, but also the 



SARGENT 19 

very atmosphere of the Court around them, 
painting, as all great painters do, invisible 
as well as visible things. If there is not 
in Sargent's painting courtesy of touch, if 
his method has not suavity in painting 
elegant people, this is rather as it should 
be in an age which trusts implicitly to the 
dressmaker and tailor for its elegance. 
And without a word here as to the worth 
of some of our modern aims, at least the 
age is too much in earnest for a pose. 
The poses and fripperies of the pictures of 
Van Dyck and Kneller are done with ; and 
besides, the modern baronet is not anxious 
to show his hands, but is painted gloved, 
and Work goes unimmortalised. Meunier 
the sculptor and other modern artists 
having gloried in the war of labour, its 
victories go unsung; its victors surviving 
only as fashionable men. 



20 SARGENT 

The portraits of some painters suggest 
nothing but the foreign atmosphere of a 
studio, but Sargent seems to meet his 
sitters in the atmosphere of their own 
daily, fashionable life, and that is why his 
pictures are romantic, for isn't there ro- 
mance wherever there is wealth? The 
people whose wealth is such that they can 
take as their own background all the 
beautiful accessories of aristocratic tradi- 
tion, are entitled to them if they like them 
well enough to spend their money in this 
way. And it is the peculiar gift of our age 
to recognise in ourselves the heirs of the 
centuries of beautiful handicrafts, which we 
close with our machines. They certainly 
are the heirs to any kind of beauty who 
have the imagination to enjoy it. And 
the imagination for past associations, who 
have this more than the Americans? We 



SARGENT 21 

believe in England that all Americans are 
rich, that they can buy whatever they appre- 
ciate. So by the divine right of things 
going to those who appreciate them, the 
rich American is now, even as Sargent 
paints him, environed by old French and 
English things and their associations. And 
in connection with the accessories in 
Sargent's pictures, might we not ask the 
question whether it could not be con- 
sidered a test of the worth or worthless- 
ness, from a point of beauty, of any 
ornament or furniture whether it would 
survive representation in a picture? How 
much modern stuff we should have to 
sweep aside! And now that one thinks of 
it, modern pictures have left modern furni- 
ture rather severely alone— the painters 
have not been faithful to their brethren the 
makers of modern tables and chairs. Who 



22 SARGENT 

is more modern than Sargent — and I am 
trying to think has he ever painted a 
modern room — that is, a room with modern 
things in it? The rooms that the most 
modern people live in are oddly enough 
the ones that are most old-fashioned, filled 
with eighteenth-century things. This, to 
reflect upon, has arisen through thinking 
about Sargent's interior paintings, which 
so very vividly and accurately reflect the 
attitude of the modern world to its own 
time. In that word modern, if we are not 
using it too often, we must seek the nature 
of Sargent's painting, its spirit; it is the 
most interesting thing in connection with 
painting to come as close as possible to its 
spirit. And what a test before any work of 
art, to ask whether it is worth a search for 
the incorporeal element ; although in vain, in 
spite of Walter Pater, does painting aspire 



PLATE III.-ELLEN TERRY AS "LADY MACBETH" 
(In the National Gallery, Millbank) 

A portrait of Miss Ellen Terry purchased from the Sir Henry 
Irving Sale at Christie's in 1907, and presented to the nation by the 
late Sir Jos. Duveen, who also bequeathed a sum of money for the 
erection of the Turner Room now being added to the National 
Gallery at Millbank. 



SARGENT 25 

"towards the condition of music," since music 
is as ghostly as the ghosts that it contains. 

Ill 

Dancing has been a theme always 
appealing to artists because of its rhythm, 
its grace in reality, its incarnation of femin- 
inity. It contains all the inspiration for a 
painter in any one moment of movement. 
No two things could be further removed from 
each other than Lancret's "La Camargo 
Dansant" and Sargent's "Carmencita," yet 
some alliterative resemblance in the name 
and some resemblance in the dancers' 
costumes bring these two figures together 
in my mind— the one the fairy artificial 
dancer, the princess of an unreal world, 
the other a vivid sinuous presentment. 
With both painters the costume has in- 
terested them as much almost as the figure, 



26 SARGENT 

for the dress of a dancer, indeed the dress 
of any woman, is in a Sargent picture a 
part of herself, nothing mere dead matter, 
everything expressive, the brush having 
come at once to the secret that no one 
material thing is more spiritual than another. 
For ever Carmencita stands, waiting for 
the beginning of the music, just as La 
Camargo is caught upon the wing of move- 
ment, seeming to revive the music that was 
played for her and cheating us with a 
sense of a world happier than it is. In 
Carmencita we have that living beauty from 
which, after all, a dreamer must take every 
one of his dreams. It is Sargent's wisdom 
to stand thus close to life. In the sense of 
this reality, and the difficulty of approach 
to it with anything so constitutionally arti- 
ficial as a painter's colours, do we apprise 
the real nature of his gifts. The roses on 



SARGENT 27 

La Camargo's dress are artificial roses, but 
not more artificial than her face and hands. 
This figure is only a little nearer to nature 
than a china shepherdess, it is the fancy 
of a mind cheating itself with unrealities 
as realities. Sargent himself has painted 
artificial things, the rouge on lips, the 
powder on a face; since it is natural for 
some folk to rouge, that is the nature which 
he paints. Only an imaginative woman 
makes herself up. A painter with more 
imagination than Sargent would enter into 
the spirit of her arts. Sargent's betrayal 
of his fashionable sitters has frightened 
many, but if anything it has increased his 
vogue; for above everything an imaginative 
woman is curious to know what she looks 
like to others, and a Sargent's portrait is 
intimate, unflattering, perfectly candid but 
perfectly true as an answer to her question. 



28 SARGENT 

Everything on the stage is artificial ; what 
will this art, that has had of the reality of 
things all its strength and life, make of a 
purely theatrical picture — Miss Ellen Terry 
in a famous part? The artificiality of the 
stage always presents two aspects, that 
one in which we forget its artificiality and 
that other in which we remember it. And 
this latter, to my mind, is the aspect in 
which Sargent has painted this picture, 
without, as it were, ever stepping over the 
footlights into the world that only becomes 
real on the other side of them. But the 
exactness of his interpretation beautifully 
explains the scene. 

11 Carnation Lily, Lily Rose " was painted 
in a garden by the Thames. Two children 
are lighting up the Chinese lanterns, and in 
their light and with flowers surrounding, 
Sargent sees for a moment life itself by acci- 



SARGENT 29 

dent made idyllic. The picture is Japanese 
in its sense of decoration, as if decoration and 
idyllic moments always went together. It 
would almost seem so from the study of 
art, for without exception, those painters 
who have been conscious of the ideal and 
idyllic element in life, have always shown 
this through composition which, whilst deal- 
ing with a real scene, has taken a little of the 
reality from it. There must be an essentially 
musical element in the art which takes a 
mood as well as a scene from nature, and 
brings us by way of real scenes to that 
imaginative country which exists in every 
nature-lover's mind; a country partly made 
up of the remembrance of other places 
which have been like the place where he 
now stands. 

Great tiger-lilies hang over the children. 
We almost expect in these surroundings 



30 SARGENT 

pierettes or fantastic lovers, but we are 
kept close to the beauty of reality by the 
naturalism with which the children have 
been painted. Not one touch is given as 
a concession to their fairy and dramatic 
background, not one ribbon, nothing in 
the costume to enable them to enter into 
the patterned world of art as part of a 
design. For above everything the painter 
has wished to persuade us of life itself as 
a picture, and not of his ability to make 
these children the motifs of design. Their 
ordinariness irritates me personally, they do 
not seem quite to belong to their fairy land, 
but I recognise that this matter-of-factness 
peculiarly belongs to Sargent's art and am 
interested in the attitude that takes beauty 
so matter-of-factly. 



SARGENT 31 

No one has encountered the beauty of 
woman's face more casually than Sargent, 
no one has made us realise more fully its 
significance as a fact in the world. After 
all we had thought perhaps we were partly 
deceived in this matter by the illusions 
of poets and love-sick painters, but ap- 
proaching it without ecstasy, art has not 
been closer to this beauty than here. I 
am looking at a half-tone reproduction of 
a lady by Sargent, wondering whether 
in the history of English portrait painting 
an artist has approached as closely to the 
thoughts of his sitter. The expression of 
the face is determined partly by thoughts 
within, partly by light without. And it is 
as if with the touch of a brush a thought 
could be intercepted as it passed the lips. 



32 SARGENT 

This is the nearest approach that thought 
has ever had to material definition. 
Thought is the architect of her expression, 
by accuracy of painting it is copied, just 
as the back of a fan or bracelet is copied 
— things so material as that. So after all 
thoughts are not so far away from the 
material world with which we are in touch ; 
are scarcely less visible than air. The 
impressionists have rendered air ; and would 
it be too far-fetched to hint that the 
shadow on the lips almost serves to bridge 
one province with another, the atmosphere 
without and that which reigns within the 
sitters mind. It is when Sargent's brush 
hesitates at the lips and eyes, at the thres- 
hold of intimate revelation, that we really 
begin to form an adequate conception of 
his genius. Yes, of things fleeting, a 
thought flitting across the face, interrupted 



PLATE IV.— W. GRAHAM ROBERTSON, ESQ. 

(In the collection of W. Graham Robertson, Esq.) 

A portrait of the writer of the children's play "Pinkie and the 
Fairies" and many charming children's books illustrated by their 
author, himself an artist of high attainment 



SARGENT 35 

gestures— and the mysterious suggestion of 
conversation hanging fire between the sitter 
and ourself, Sargent is the master. Some- 
times a portrait painter will create a face 
on canvas, of pleasant expression, which 
is not like his sitter, and it is as if with 
every touch he could change the thoughts 
as he changes the expression in the face 
he is creating. 

Sargent's accuracy is such that the ex- 
pression that passes over the face in his 
portraits is one which all the sitter's friends 
recognise; so close is he in touch with the 
delicate drawing, especially round the lips, 
that his brush never strays by one little bit 
into the realm of invention. There are 
other painters painting as carefully, faces as 
full of expression, who do not come near a 
likeness of their sitter. In what provinces 
close to nature are they wandering, since, 



36 SARGENT 

striving to paint the face before them, they 
paint another face ? We must not forget, in 
thinking of Sargent's greatness, that he un- 
failingly is in close touch with his sitters' ex- 
pression, that is, almost with their thoughts. 
Although Sargent has proved in many 
landscapes his powers in that direction, 
he too well enters into the spirit of 
the portraiture to which he has put his 
hand to attempt to introduce naturalistic 
effects into backgrounds obviously painted 
in a London studio. The landscape back- 
ground is sometimes charming if under these 
circumstances it remains a convention; for 
there are moments when nature herself is 
out of place, pictures in which human nature 
must be the only form of life,— with the 
exception perhaps of flowers, for these 
accompany human nature always, to revel- 
ries where sunlight is excluded, and even 



SARGENT 37 

to the tomb. It is art of little carry- 
ing power that is exhausted upon some 
transcript of beautiful detail, colour of 
the glazes of a vase, a bunch of flowers. 
Sargent embraces difficulties one after an- 
other with energy unexpended. Physique, 
but never genius will give out. Energy of 
this order always goes with a generous, 
because very human, outlook ; success 
on occasion being modified not through 
failure to accomplish, but through failure 
to respond. 



The life of a busy portrait painter, with 
its demand for inspiration every morning, 
is of the most exacting nature, and the 
quality of the painter's output must of 
necessity vary. The nervous strain is great, 



38 SARGENT 

for sitters are capricious, and always is 
the temptation present to the one sin 
that is unforgivable, compromise with the 
Philistine — the concession of genius to 
stupidity, of perceptions nearly divine to 
ignorance. Genius has always had diffi- 
culty in working to order, yet nearly all 
the great portraiture work in the world 
has been done to order. But one imagines 
jthat the conditions under which the master- 
pieces of a modern painter, with so great 
a vogue as Sargent's, have been produced 
must be unparalleled by anything in the 
history of ancient painting. A crowd 
streamed through the studios of Gains- 
borough, Reynolds, and Romney to be 
painted, but the world was smaller then, 
and their art was more easily done. They 
worked within a convention narrower than 
Sargent's, compromising with nature at the 



PLATE V.— CARNATION LILY, LILY ROSE 

(In the National Gallery, Millbank) 

This painting was bought for the nation under the terms of the 
Chantrey Bequest in 1887, seven years previous to the painter's 
election to associateship of the Royal Academy. 



SARGENT 41 

very start ; a convention more beautiful than 
his, a garden, beautiful because it was con- 
fined and seen in an accustomed light. If 
things are beautiful at all they become more 
so when they are no longer unaccustomed, 
when they fit in with an old frame of mind. 
Sargent deals with the unaccustomed— in 
which at first perhaps we always see the 
ugly — whilst, as we have said, he does not 
destroy, as the vandalistic art of some 
painters does, the connection between the 
past and present. It is the present which 
his art embraces, but we might almost say 
we are never thoroughly accustomed to the 
present until it has become the past. So 
to us Sargent's art is not as beautiful as 
Gainsborough's, for it has constantly to 
throw over some old form of perfection to 
embrace a new difficulty. In the eighteenth 
century there was less variety in the life 



42 SARGENT 

which art encountered. The life of even a 
Gainsborough or a Reynolds would be cir- 
cumscribed in just the same way that their 
art is circumscribed, uninterrupted in its 
mood, and beauty is to be found in uninter- 
rupted moods. 

VI 

m 

Something should now be said of 
Sargent's method— of that which is spoken 
of as his technique. And of method, it is 
not something to be separated from the 
painter's temperament, it is always auto- 
graphic. Somehow, temperament shows 
even in a person's handwriting, giving it 
what is really its style, though the fashion 
of writing imposed upon a pupil by his 
master is also called a style. In art there 
is no word that is oftener debated. And of 
those who speak most of style in their 



SARGENT 43 

own work, the measure of their self- 
consciousness in the matter is often the 
measure of their distance from it. They 
are in the position of a schoolboy taking 
writing lessons, and their style, if ever 
they are to have one, does not begin until 
thinking and painting have become for 
them almost one process. But this is a 
difficult matter to make clear, and apology 
should perhaps be forthcoming for touching 
on so debatable a point thus hurriedly. 
I may have said something perhaps to 
convey to the lay reader the significance 
of the particular method of treating his 
subjects which we identify with Sar- 
gent. The pupil of Carolus Duran, his 
method was formed under the most modern 
influences; whatever effect quite another 
kind of training might have had on Sargent, 
still nothing but the traceable element of 



44 SARGENT 

self would have determined for us his style. 
The method of applying paint to canvas 
has always resolved itself into more or less 
a personal question, though certain schools 
are to be identified with different ways of 
seeing ; every method is a convention, and 
the difference of conventions always one of 
vision, affecting handling only in the sense 
that it has to be accommodated to the 
vision. It would be out of place here, per- 
haps, and far too technical, to define the 
difference between such a method as 
Sargent's and say that of Pre-Raphaelitism. 
But roughly, the Pre-Raphaelite concen- 
trates on each object. For each object, say 
in a room, is in turn his subject as he paints 
that room. The impressionist, Sargent, only 
has the one subject, that room, the dif- 
ferent objects in it explaining themselves 
only in so far as their surfaces and character 



SARGENT 45 

are defined in the general impression by the 
way they take the light — in short, almost 
an impression as it would be received on 
a lens. If we remember all this we can 
appreciate the extreme sensitiveness both 
of Sargent's vision and touch. For his 
brush conveys almost with the one touch — 
so spontaneous in feeling is his work — not 
only the amount but the shape of the light 
on any surface. Thus the shapes of every- 
thing in the picture are finally resolved, and 
we might also say without curiosity as to 
their causes. We are given the impression, 
which would have been our own impression : 
since in regard to a portrait, for instance, 
when we meet a person our curiosity does 
not immediately extend to such details as 
the character and number of buttons on 
his coat. With this method always goes 
spontaneity, Sargent's pre-eminent gift. He 



46 SARGENT 

values it so highly that he does not scruple 
to recommence a picture more than once 
and carry it through again in the one 
mood, if in the first instance his art may 
have miscarried, not permitting himself to 
doctor up the first attempt. To the con- 
stant sense of freshness in his work which 
such a way of working must imply, I 
think a great measure of his vogue is to 
be attributed, though others have coloured 
more prettily, flattered more, and sub- 
ordinated themselves to the amiable ambi- 
tions of their sitters. 

VII 
Is it a fancy? — but I see a resemblance 
between the art of Sargent and that in 
writing of Mr. Henry James. The same 
pleasure in nuances of effect in detail, and 
the readiness to turn to the life at hand 



SARGENT 47 

for this. To enjoy Sargent is above all to 
appreciate the means by which he obtains 
effect in detail, the economy of colour and 
of brush marks with which he deceives the 
eye, and the quality of subtle colour in 
the interpretation of minor phenomena. On 
the large scale, in the general effect, the 
quality of his colour is sometimes unin- 
viting. But when at its best it takes the 
everyday colour of things as if it was colour, 
without the hysterical exaggeration with 
which so much youthful contemporary art 
attempts to cheat itself and other people. 
If Sargent's admirers do not claim that he 
sees all the colour there is in things, they 
claim for him that he sees colour and has 
the reverence for reality which prevents a 
tawdry emphasis upon it for the sake of 
sweetness of effect. And after the sweet- 
meat vagaries, which have followed in the 



48 SARGENT 

wake of Whistler, by those without that 
master's self-control, this is refreshing. 

Sargent's brush seems to trifle with things 
that are trifling, to proceed thoughtfully in 
its approach to lips and eyes. In painting 
accessories around his sitters there is the 
accommodation of touch to the importance 
of the objects suggested, and nowadays, 
since interior painting is the fashion — to 
suit the taste of a young man of genius im- 
posing his peculiar gift upon the time — 
there are many portraits where the sitter is 
brought into line with an elaborate setting 
out of objets cVart, the painter's pleasure 
in the treatment of these manifesting itself 
sometimes at the sitter's expense. Trans- 
lating everything by the methods we have 
described, Sargent preserves throughout 
his pictures a certain quality of paint. The 
impression of the characteristic surface of 



PLATE VI. -LADY ELCHO, MRS. ADEANE, 
AND LADY TENNANT 

(In the collection of the Hon. Percy Wyndham) 

A portrait group cf the daughters of the Hon. Percy Wyndham. 
In the background is the famous portrait of Lady Wyndham, 
wife of the Hon. Percy Wyndham, painted by the late G. F. 
Watts, O.M.R.A. 



SARGENT 51 

any material is made within this quality, 
by the responsiveness of his brush to the 
subtlest modification of effect which differ- 
entiates between the nature of one surface 
and another, as they are influenced by the 
light upon them at the moment. There are 
painters who do not translate reality into 
paint in this way, but who have striven to 
imitate the surface qualities of objects by 
varying, imitative ways of applying their 
paint. Sargent is not this kind of realist. 

He is a realist in the sense that Goya, 
the great Spanish painter of the eighteenth 
century, was one, for the Spaniard had just 
such an eagerness to come closer to the 
sense of life than the close imitation of 
its outside could bring him. Sargent is 
more polite, less impetuous, but still it is 
life as it is, that quickens his brush and 
informs all his virtuosity. His technique 



52 SARGENT 

presents life vividly, but presents it to us 
with a sense of accomplishment in art, the 
equivalent of the accomplished art of living 
of the majority of his sitters. I am think- 
ing of a portrait of a lady, and she is turn- 
ing the leaves of a book, and in the lowered 
eyes, and the movement of the hand, there 
is more than arrested movement, there is an 
expression of an attitude consciously as- 
sumed which ordinarily would have been an 
unconscious one, and so accurate is the 
painting, that the sitter is detected as it 
were in this self-consciousness. In portraits 
of a ceremonial order, for people to sit in 
a group with a pleasant indispensable air 
of naturalness, is of course an affair on the 
artist's part of very thoughtful arrangement. 
But while composition should not betray the 
affectation of natural movement, movement 
must not be conveyed in a merely sensa- 



SARGENT 53 

tional, snapshot manner. For the slightest 
reflection on this matter will betray to us 
that in the latter pretension we are cheated, 
since we cannot fail to remember that to 
complete the canvas the sitter must have re- 
covered the pose day after day, hour after 
hour, in the studio. Sargent's instincts are 
so tuned to the appropriate, having the tact 
which itself is art, that whilst in this kind of 
portraiture we do not question the grouping 
or the movement of his sitters as unreal, we 
do not accept it as quite natural. We in- 
stinctively know that in proportion as it is 
made to look too natural it would be unreal, 
untrue to the conditions which the painter's 
art actually encountered. Sargent, who 
permits nothing to stand between him and 
nature, will not permit such an inartistic lie 
to stand between us and the sincerity of his 
painting. He does not betray us in his 



54 SARGENT 

love of what is of the moment, by giving 
us sham of this kind instead of the real 
thing. 

At every point at which we take his 
art and examine it, the evidence all points 
to one form of success. The sitters posing 
are really posing, their action is not even 
made unnaturally real as we have shown, 
and in the distances in the room round 
them, there is the reality of space dividing 
them from things at the other end of the 
room. Reality, within the confines of the 
particular truths to which his method is 
subject, has been the evident intention all 
through his art. From this standpoint it 
often compels admiration in cases where it 
would have to be withdrawn were we sub- 
stituting in our mind another ideal, examin- 
ing his work, for instance, only in the light 
of a sensitive colour beauty which the 



SARGENT 55 

painter has not put first and foremost. 
Some artists have embraced reality only 
as it justified their imagination. If we 
look on Sargent's art for anything inward 
except that which looks through the eyes 
and determines the smile of his sitter, we 
shall find our sympathies break down. Un- 
necessary perhaps to say this, yet it were as 
well to make quite clear the light in which 
we should regard the work of an artist 
who has wholly succeeded in self-expres- 
sion, the only known form of success in art. 

In analysing some men's work, we wish 
above all to know them, to know the mind 
that thus environs itself. With others it is 
their art which tempts us to further and 
further knowledge of its truths while, as 
with Shakespeare, the artist behind it be- 
comes impersonal. Thus it is with Sargent's 
art. It is true that if we wish to know an 



56 SARGENT 

artist we can never under any circum- 
stances become more intimate with him than 
in his art, whether we find him in it 
far away in remote valleys or at the centre 
of fashionable life. And this though the 
dreamer may be a man of fashion and the 
painter of society live a life retired. 

Of Sargent's water-colours, much might 
be said. To some extent they explain his 
oils, yet he seems to allow himself in them 
a greater freedom, just as the medium 
itself is freer than that of oils — more acci- 
dental, and the masters of this art control 
its propensity for accidental effect as its 
very spirit, guiding it with skill to results 
which baffle and perplex by the ingenuity 
with which they give illusion. First, as 
last, a painter has to accept the fact that he 
conveys nothing except by illusion; that 
he can never bring his easel so close to the 



SARGENT 57 

subject, or his materials to such minuteness 
of touch, that his art becomes pure imita- 
tion; nor can he secure the adjustment of 
proportion between a large subject and a 
small panel which would give in every case 
such imitation. The supreme artist ac- 
cepts the standpoint first instead of last, and 
the greater his art becomes, the greater his 
power in its mysterious control of effect. 

VIII 
There are some painters whose work 
we may personally wholly dislike — dis- 
like their outlook — even our favourite sub- 
jects becoming intolerable to us in their 
art. It is something in their nature antipa- 
thetic to our own. Of course, mediocre 
work does not assume such proportions in 
our mind. Then there are painters who, 
through some affinity of temperament with 



58 SARGENT 

our own, make everything their art touches 
pleasant to us. And then there are the 
impersonal artists, Velazquez, Millais, and 
Sargent, taking apparently quite an imper- 
sonal view of life. Sargent's world is every- 
body's world, and if we are affected one way 
or another by it, it is as life affects us. 

One has heard a painter say, "I can 
paint those things because I love them." 
Judged by his treatment of so many things, 
of nearly everything, how much must Sar- 
gent love life. One man can paint flowers 
and another marble — Sargent paints every- 
thing; and, to paraphrase, almost it might 
be said that what he doesn't paint isn't 
worth painting. But all this is nothing if he 
never penetrates, as Meissonier and others 
never penetrated, below the surface; if 
he gave no symbols in his art of things 
invisible. 



PLATE VII.— THE MISSES WERTHEIMER 
(In the collection of Asher Wertheimer, Esq.) 

Portraits of the daughters of Asher Wertheimer, Esq., the eminent 
art-expert. Mr. Wertheimer is himself the subject of one of the best 
of Sargent's portraits. 



SARGENT 61 

We like some of the subjects he has 
painted, others we dislike so much that we 
wonder he has painted them; just as in 
life there are people and surroundings to 
which we are attracted, and others from 
whom we keep away. 

To the realist by temperament the 
effect of the details of any scene accepted 
direct from nature provide exciting inspira- 
tion, and he least of all is likely to turn to 
decorative composition, which, with its re- 
semblance to a form imposed in verse, only 
aids in the interpretation of the subject in 
proportion as it is imaginatively inspired. A 
painter pre-occupied with the opportunities 
which any incident may offer for the interpre- 
tation of subtleties, will often accept any 
scene from nature and almost any point of 
view as composition. For the old formulas 
of composition — of the time when composi- 



62 SARGENT 

tion was regarded as something to be taught 
—went with a decorative conception of 
things, was in itself a form of decoration. 
And whilst it has been said that all art is 
decorative, it will perhaps be found that the 
naturalistic painter is too much excited 
with incident to scheme much for a 
rhythmic presentation of it in the frame. 
Such a canvas as Sargent's "Salmon 
Fishing in Norway," lately exhibited in the 
McCulloch collection, a portrait painted in 
the open, of a youth resting on the bank 
of a river with caught salmon and tackle 
beside him, the centre of a skilfully painted 
piece of landscape, is a case in point. The 
difficulties which subjects have presented 
have often seemed Sargent's inspiration 
in landscape: rocks presenting surfaces to 
the light with a thousand variations; the 
wet basins of bronze fountains receiving 



SARGENT 63 

coloured reflections and the diamond lights 
in the fountain splashes; grey architec- 
ture with its soft shadows, architecture 
white in the sun with its cool blue shadows, 
like fragments of night in the doorways. 
It is this mysterious sensation of light and 
shadow alternating everywhere, changing 
the colour of the day itself as the day 
advances, which Sargent meets. He is 
one of the few painters who have faced 
the noon. He has this great command of 
art's slender resources, and he is matter- 
of-fact enough to be happy at this uncom- 
promising time of day, unbelieved in by 
the workers, so inconsiderate to the lazy 
with its heat. The noon has not many 
with its praises, and "all great art is 
praise." Painters have got up at dawn to 
communicate to us its everyday recurring 
freshness, as of an eternal spring, and 



64 SARGENT 

has not evening always been the painter's 
hour? Sargent has faced the noon, which 
demands so much sensitiveness that the 
over-sensitive shrink. His brush has given 
it in water-colours the finest interpretation 
it has yet received. 

IX 

To go back to the matter of composi- 
tion again. In his portrait groups, where 
the mere fact that the sitters have to be 
grouped implies that he is not dealing 
from the start with an impression direct, 
we find he is a master of the finest com- 
position, as in his group of Mrs. Carl 
Meyer and children. And yet to one who 
will take not one touch with his brush 
from what is not before him, such a view 
of his subject must be incalculable in its 
difficulties. 



SARGENT 65 

The painter has never made a passage 
of painting the excuse for incongruity. The 
arrangements in his pictures are always 
probable. It is legitimate in many cases 
that they should only be imaginatively pro- 
bable. Any arrangement is probable in a 
studio, and affording themselves too much 
licence in this respect some painters wonder 
why the public are inclined to discredit 
most of what they do. The logical quality, 
the sanity of Sargent's art is yet another 
reason for its vogue; it has not the un- 
reasonableness of studio production, it 
commends itself to a world that perhaps is 
not wrong in assuming that the artistic 
licence is applied for by those who are not 
sane. Sargent has on occasion had to re- 
sort to all sorts of devices to obtain effects 
and composition that he has desired, but 
he has always kept faith with the public, 



66 SARGENT 

and had the true artist's regard for their 
illusions. He allows his sitters to wear 
their best clothes, but he never dresses 
them up ; no, to please him they must wholly 
belong to the life of which they are a part, 
it is the attitude in which they interest 
him and all of us. We have then to 
think of Sargent not only as a painter, but 
as the maker of human documents — like 
Balzac, the creator of imperishable char- 
acters — with this advantage over Balzac, 
that all his characters have especially sat 
to him. It is how posterity will undoubtedly 
regard this array of brilliant pictures. Of 
the people they will know nothing but the 
legend of their actions and Sargent's record 
of their face. We have undoubtedly felt 
that when a man of real distinction of 
mind has worn them, the top hat and 
cylindrical trouser leg were not so bad. 



SARGENT 67 

They have indeed, under the influence of 
personality, seemed on occasions the most 
august and distinguished garments in the 
world. But there must come disillusion, 
the humour of it all will some day dawn, 
but it will not be before a Sargent picture. 
He has at any rate immortalised those 
things, just as Velazquez has made beauti- 
ful for ever the outrageous clothes in which 
his Infantas were imprisoned. We are re- 
conciled to such things in art by the same 
process as we are in life, in Sargent's case 
by the unforgettable rendering of the distinc- 
tion of many of his sitters. 

X 

It is the work of the secondary artist 
that is always perfect — of its sort; for it 
will not accept its reward, to wit, the 
finished picture, until the last effort has 



68 SARGENT 

been expended. With the masters of the 
first order, it is otherwise. We have said 
they paint as they think; who but the 
amateur always thinks at his best? When 
a man's art has become a part of him, it 
suffers with his moods. He always works, 
and his work is always his companion, an 
indulgence. In his exalted moments it rises 
to heights by which we estimate his genius, 
but which sensible criticism does not ex- 
pect him to live up to, any more than we 
expect a brilliant conversationalist always to 
be equally brilliant. This is why a master's 
work is always so interesting. That it 
has become so flexible an expression of 
his own nature is its charm, if we really 
regard it as art, and do not look upon the 
artist as a manufacturer who must be re- 
liable, who having once turned out of his 
workshop a work of surpassing perfection, 



PLATE VIII.— MRS. A. L. LANGMAN 
(In the collection of A. L. Langman, Esq., C.M.G.) 

A portrait of the wife of A. L. Langman, Esq., C.M.G., who served 
with the Langman Field Hospital, in connection with the equipment 
of which for the South African War his father, Sir John Langman, 
Bart., is remembered. 



SARGENT 71 

must be expected to keep to that standard 
or be classed with the defaulting tradesman 
whose goods do not come up to his sample. 
A painter makes or mars his own reputa- 
tion by the care or carelessness of his 
work, but it is his own work, and he is not 
under any obligation to us to keep it up to 
a certain standard if it does not interest 
him to sacrifice everything for that standard. 
Sargent's work has been splendidly un- 
equal. Sometimes it has been disillusioned, 
tired, at other times all his energy has 
seemed gathered up into a tour de force. 
An intensity there is about Sargent's 
earlier work which we cannot find in some 
of his later pictures, sureness of itself has 
brought freedom and with it freedom's 
qualities, which we must take pleasure in 
for their own sake. 

It is frequently enough the weakness of 



72 SARGENT 

painters to return constantly in their art to 
some particular gesture or arrangement in 
which their mastery is complete. This has 
not been the case with Sargent; instead, 
his mastery has completed itself only 
through a constant encounter with new 
difficulties. 

A quality of all great art is reticence, 
something which will never let the master, 
to whom it is not disastrous to be careless, 
be so ; for carelessness nearly always means 
over-statement, and exaggeration. Ah ! 
just the qualities if a work of art is to 
arrest attention in a modern exhibition. 
A common question at the Royal Academy 
is " Where are the Sargents ? " by some 
enthusiastic visitor who has passed them 
several times. No, Sargent's victories do 
not startle, winged victories do not, but 
advertisements do. 



SARGENT 73 

XI 

Sargent was born of American parents 
in Florence in 1856, and passed his boy- 
hood there. No art, it would seem at first, 
is further away than his from all the Floren- 
tine traditions, and yet in the decorative 
colour values, which give distinction to his 
finest works, he is the child of Florence. 
The Renaissance attitude towards life itself 
was highly imaginative, so into visionary art 
reality was carried. Consulting the origin 
of all their visions, the Florentines returned 
imaginatively to what was real. It is the 
beauty of reality which is the fervour of 
their great designs, and as a humanist, 
Sargent is their descendant. 

When, at the age of nineteen, he came 
to Paris, he was already, we are told, an 
artist of promise, and he went to Carolus 



74 SARGENT 

Duran with youth's conscious, ardent neces- 
sity of embracing a fresh view of the world 
altogether. The lighter touch of Carolus 
Duran, the worldly painting, the lively art 
of things living, if a superficial art, was 
refreshing, no doubt, to one accustomed 
only to the beautiful memories of ardour 
expressed five centuries before. And super- 
ficiality, demoralising to the superficial, 
could only give some added swiftness to a 
brush inclined to halt with too much inten- 
sity whilst life, its one enthusiasm, was 
racing by. He never experimented under 
Carolus Duran. He was beginning that un- 
erring sensitiveness of painting, which is 
only learnt by drudgery, the almost luxuri- 
ously easy virtuosity, before the acquirement 
of which, complete freedom of expression 
cannot begin, or sympathy declare itself as 
from a well-played instrument. 



SARGENT 75 

An artist with individuality is careless 
of asserting it, and it is perhaps just the 
one thing in the world which cannot but 
assert itself. Those who strive for origi- 
nality through the unaccustomed may with- 
out hesitation be put down as those who 
are without confidence in their own nature. 
The individuality of Sargent, as striking 
as any in his day, is unself-consciously ex- 
pressed. If we could strain from a work 
of art the self-conscious, which is always 
the unnatural element, all that ever gave 
it any force would still be left in it. Sub- 
mitted to this test, how much so-called 
originality would crumble, while the indi- 
vidualism of Sargent still remained. 

When leaving the studio of Carolus 
Duran, he painted a portrait of that painter, 
a summing, as it were, of all he owed to 
him before he courted another influence. 



76 SARGENT 

He went to Madrid, there to study the living 
elements of art in the school of a dead 
master, Velazquez, in whose life encom- 
passing art nothing has gone out of fashion 
— no, not even the farthingale which the 
children wear. It was early in the eighties 
that the Spanish visit ended and Sargent 
worked in Paris, already a man of note, 
for the Carolus Duran portrait had been 
followed by "Portrait of a Young Lady," 
exhibited in 1881, and "En route pour la 
Peche" and "Smoke of Ambergris." In 
1882 he exhibited the tour de force " El 
Jaleo," the sensation of the season, and 
immediately afterwards the "Portraits of 
Children" — the four children in a dimly- 
lighted hall, one of the most well-remem- 
bered of his pictures of that time. Then 
came the wonderful "Madame Gautreau." 
Paris was his headquarters but his visits 



SARGENT 77 

to England were frequent, and they grew 
more frequent as the time went on and as 
his reputation grew in London. It was 
about half-a-dozen years after the Spanish 
visit that he came to this country to live 
here permanently and make his art our own. 
He was elected an Associate of the Royal 
Academy in 1894, a Royal Academician 
in 1897. 

XII 

We should say something of Sargent's 
influence on contemporary art, which has 
been immense. It has been thought that, 
deceived by the brilliance of his results, 
with their great air of spontaneity, younger 
painters have been led astray. This, we 
believe, is a mistake. The weakest go to 
the wall, but it is probable that the ex- 
ample of Sargent has succeeded in lifting 



78 SARGENT 

the whole standard of painting in the 
country, bringing — even the great incom- 
petent, within measuring distance of a 
useful ideal; an ideal of sympathy dis- 
ciplined with every touch, and an ideal of 
difficult things. Is not Art always difficult? 
It has been so to Sargent, with everything 
at his fingers' ends ; with everything so 
much at his fingers' ends that under 
special circumstances he once completed 
a life-size three-quarter length portrait in 
a single day. He was in America, and 
had promised to paint the portrait The 
sittings were put off, and at last the friend 
who was to sit was suddenly called away; 
but Sargent came with his materials in 
the morning, and the sitter gave him the 
day. They were probably both nearly dead 
at the end of it, but a large finished paint- 
ing had been begun and ended. 



SARGENT 79 

Sargent's countrymen have appreciated 
every manifestation of his gifts. Lately 
he exhibited eighty-three of his water- 
colours in Brooklyn. He will not part with 
them singly. Brooklyn enthusiastically 
bought the whole collection for its Art 
Museum. 

Fame has not spoilt his retiring nature, 
and even by his art a barrier is raised, 
in front of which the master will not 
show himself, but I hope it is an intimacy 
that we have established with him in his 
art. Mine is but the privilege of murmuring 
the introduction, and any charges to be 
brought against me must be laid at 
Sargent's door. For a great artist creates 
not only his art, but that which it inspires. 
This is indeed the mysterious province of 
artistic creation; the artist creating be- 
yond his art that which comes into our 



80 SARGENT 

minds through contact with it; so framing 
our thoughts and setting in motion waves 
infinitely continued in the thoughts that 
pass through every man to his com- 
panions. 



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